Faces of UMSI: Chun-Yuen Teng

When UMSI PhD candidate Chun-Yuen Teng captures a close-up of a snowflake on film, he sees much more than the beauty of nature. He envisions how everything is connected through networks.

“If you examine the snowflake, you will see six interesting angle shapes," Chun-Yuen says. “I want to use a network to explain interesting effects or interesting phenomenon.”

Chun-Yuen’s research focuses on social network analysis. “Even if you design a computer program, you don’t know how humans think or understand human behavior,” he says. “Maybe if we can apply data analysis or social network analysis to understand humans, we can know how they make friends, how they make choices. We can use network analysis to analyze that collective intelligence.”

Chun-Yuen has applied this theory to research on everything from food ingredients to color choices. “We can potentially understand the principles of ingredient pairing, color pairing, relationship pairing,” he said. His research of food ingredient networks involved pairing common ingredients and recommending recipes based on taste. Common reasons for changing recipe ingredients include improving taste, reducing fat, or lacking ingredients. “With a network you will know the potential interaction,” he says. “We look at the relationship between two ingredients. Similar pairs are likely to form a community similar to how we interact with people. We like to find people who are similar to us.”

In a color pairing study, he explores the effects of social influence on color preference. Color preference can be linked to geographic location, color of objects in real life, friends’ favorite colors, even sexual orientation. Chun-Yuen said this is important because the selection of color plays an important role in determining the first impression of artworks.

He is also researching how collaboration between different genders produces more citations. “Different genders can give interesting insights of different connections of knowledge … to reach a broader audience,” he says. Chun-Yuen’s location study uses networks to trace individual patterns based on where people travel throughout the day, allowing researchers to potentially predict where an individual will likely go next.

A native of Taiwan, Chun-Yuen’s pastimes include magic and fortune-telling. “In SI you need to talk a lot,” he said. “I find that magic helps me show how to quickly present my idea.” His hobbies also provide stress relief. “Sometimes it’s very painful to go through the research process because the data can be quite noisy and you cannot get interesting results. Research is not easy, but it is a challenge and it is interesting,” he said, adding that magic is like research because initially it’s difficult to understand how tricks work.

Chun-Yuen put his knowledge to work at U-M facilities, as a web developer, database engineer and software engineer, while obtaining his MSI. “When I came here, I didn’t want my family to support my education,” he says. He describes UMSI as the end of a long journey which took him from the study of computer science to the study of human behavior. “I found that U of M gives me a chance to apply data analysis to study human behavior,” he says. “SI is much more diverse than other schools. There’s lots of collaboration between people and disciplines.” Of his three advisors (Mark Ackerman, Lada Adamic and Eytan Adar), he says, “If I’m interested in a research topic, they will support and help me.”

After graduation, Chun-Yuen plans to work in the U.S. before returning to Taiwan. “I hope to become faculty in Taiwan, but for now I need to do more research,” he said.